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HomeLJS PodcastLearn Jazz StandardsHow to Learn Difficult Jazz Standards

How to Learn Difficult Jazz Standards

Welcome to episode 135 of the LJS Podcast where today we are exploring how to learn, understand, and memorize complex jazz standards. We take a look at Wayne Shorter’s “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum” and extract lessons we can apply to others. Listen in!

Listen to episode 135

On this podcast, I often go over basic jazz harmony and chord progressions. These are important starting points but are also imperative to continually review and improve upon.

But what about those jazz standards that just don’t seem to make diatonic sense?

It’s understandable to look at complex tunes by Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane and a host of others and get completely stumped.

These songs can be hard to understand, and therefore become hard to learn and memorize.

So in today’s episode, I dive into Wayne Shorter’s “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum” and try to make sense out of it. At the same time, I talk about how to approach difficult songs like this in general.

Here’s some of what I talk about today:

1. Diatonic harmony vs. non-diatonic and complex harmony.

2. In-depth analysis of “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum”

3. 3 important tips to heed when learning complex jazz standards.

Pay special attention to the 3 tips at the end. Those are the real key to approaching these songs and not getting overwhelmed.

Important Links

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum chord charts and resources

The Jazz Standards Playbook eBook and Companion Course

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


  1. This was a helpful way of understanding and memorizing unusual chord progressions. But, how do you learn what the chord progression is in the first place? Should you use a chart, or learn it by ear? If by ear, any tips on how to do so on a difficult tune that doesn't follow common tonal progressions?

    • Hey Dzung! Absolutely nothing wrong with using a chord chart to try to figure out the harmony. By ear I would say to try to identify the intervallic movements in the bass and then slowly chord by chord try to make your best determination of the quality of chord. Even if you go to the sheet to see how close you were, that effort alone will be beneficial.

  2. Great lesson Brent. If I can just get past the theory that I understand about the tune and just play , I'll be happy jazz guitar player. Thanks again.


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